My Top Five Books (in no particular order)*
1) 1) 1984 by George Orwell: To know me is to know my obsession with all things Orwell. I’ve read all of his books, several essays, and a biography or two. He is the kind of writer I want to be, both in style and content. 1984 is of course his most famous work, but it wasn’t one of the first I read by him, and it’s one of the classics that’s a classic for a reason. It’s a book that stays with you forever. I’ve seen the (US-banned!) film version and a stage production, and both were mostly well done, but nothing has ever compared to the way the book draws you in and changes the way you look at the world.
2) 2) Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg: Sure, she’s an Oprah Book Club alumni (but sometimes Oprah has really good taste) and maybe her books aren’t high literature and the target audience may be middle-aged ladies, but Elizabeth Berg knows how to write characters and dialog like few authors. She writes honestly and without pretension, and creates people that you actually care about living in a world that seems familiar even if it’s one you don’t live in. Her main characters are always women and in this book it’s a woman in her 60s alone on the road trying to find herself writing journals and letters to her confused husband she abandoned at home. I read it as a 19-year-old and knew just how she felt. That’s good writing. Plus I met Elizabeth Berg in Chicago once; she’s a wonderfully nice lady.
3) 3)The Bell Jar by Silvia Plath: This one goes out to my angsty 14-year-old self. I’m sure I’d feel differently about it now, but at the time it just all seemed so…deep. I remember sitting on the porch and in my bedroom reading Silvia Plath and all J.D. Salinger that spring and feeling so misunderstood.
4) 4) Without a Net edited by Michelle Tea: The only non-fiction book on my list. While some parts are more well-written than others, the message in this collection of essays by women who grew up Working Class articulates parts of my own experience growing up as well as issues such as racism, sexual identity and feminism, and the co-opting of downtrodden cultures in a straightforward and honest way that few books I’ve read have.
5) 5) Caucasia by Danzy Senna: Reading this book was the best thing to come out of my short lived time in a Book Club, and one of the most interesting multi-layered discussions about a book I’ve ever had with a group of people. On the surface it’s a book about race (in fact Borders seems to think it’s only for Black People http://fullofwit.blogspot.com/2008/12/is-borders-racist.html), but aside from racial identity, it was a beautiful and artfully woven story of a girl’s relationship with her father, politics, growing up.
· Down and Out in London and Paris by George Orwell : His best book about class and that’s saying a lot), I read it while I was living in London and it gave me a new perspective on the city’s history, plus this is actually the first Orwell book I ever read and your first is always special.
· A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith: I was reading this book when I was in the process of moving to New York and several random people approached me while I was reading it to tell me how much they loved it. It was a memorable story and an interesting history lesson about the city I was moving to.
· Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: An epic story that covers the gamut from sexual and national identity, and a lot of history of my home state.
· Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss: Along with the Lorax, the best Seuss books, plus this one makes a perfect graduation speech.
· Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach: The best travel book I’ve read, it was particularly meaningful because I was reading it as I was moving abroad.
*Anyone who loves books or music or movies always has a hard time picking their favorites, and so there are tons of books I love that I didn’t think to include.